Tag Archives: women

GOP Debates the New $10

The ongoing discussion about changing the personages who grace US currency is one that we have covered before (here,  here, and here). This spring, the Women on 20s movement effectively sparked a renewed national discussion about the lack of women on US currency (beyond of course the lightly-circulated Sacagewa dollar coin). Although the goal of that campaign was to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill, in June Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew made a surprise announcement that the ten-dollar bill, which was already in the process of being redesigned, would feature a woman. The rather general message was simply that a “notable woman” would feature on the bill and the American public was asked to share its ideas about who it might be here. Despite this solicitation for public feedback, the decision will ultimately be made by Jack Lew and opposition to removing Alexander Hamilton at this point seems moot.


The tremendous response to the announcement and discussions about the varied possibilities have been ongoing. The winner of the popular Women on 20’s poll was Harriet Tubman, with Eleanor Roosevelt coming in a close second. The poll we ran here on Pocket Change was won by Amelia Earhart, with Helen Keller just behind. Anecdotally, the name I have most often heard is Rosa Parks. In short, it seems like there are a number of different possibilities and it has been heartening to see this numismatic issue enliven the public interest. It was also fascinating to see it addressed at last night’s GOP debate on CNN. Although moderator Jake Tapper condescendingly introduced it is a “lighthearted” topic, he asked the Republican candidates directly: “What woman would you like to see on the $10 bill?”

Their responses were interesting and the video below is cued to the segment if you would like to watch:


Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump rather lamely suggest their wife, mother, and daughter respectively. Jeb Bush looks to conservative icon Margaret Thatcher while John Kasich sees Mother Theresa as an inspiration, though neither would seem to be appropriate for US currency. Of the more considered responses, Mario Rubio advocates for Rosa Parks as “an everyday American that changed the course of history.” Citing his own work with the Red Cross, which she of course helped found, Scott Walker puts forward Clara Barton. Chris Christie observes that “our country wouldn’t be here without John Adams, and he would not have been able to do it without Abigail Adams.” It was somewhat surprising to me that the only candidate who did not accept a change as a fait accompli (perhaps because of the way the question was framed) was Carly Fiorina. Fiorina seems to think the proposed change is a meaningless “gesture” and does not “think it helps to change our history,” linking her opposition to her feeling that “women are not a special interest group.” 

The range of responses show just how compelling and open the question of whose portrait will feature on the new ten-dollar bill is at present. And it is a discussion that we will continue to follow with interest here on Pocket Change.

Matthew Wittmann

Excerpt from the full transcript (via Time) is below the fold:

Continue reading GOP Debates the New $10


I will be on NPR’s All Things Considered today to discuss the announcement by Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew that a woman will either be joining or replacing Alexander Hamilton on a redesigned $10 bill scheduled to enter into circulation in 2020.

It will be the first major change to U.S. paper currency since the present small-size Federal Reserve Notes were introduced in 1929 (with allowances for the anti-counterfeiting alterations of the past few years). The full details are on the Treasury’s website here, and the announcement comes on the heels of a popular campaign to replace Andrew Jackson, headlined by the Women on 20s movement that I have written about before here and here.

It seems to me that there are two likely explanations for this decision and the timing of the announcement. The first is that the ten-dollar bill was already in the process of being  redesigned because of a lawsuit and pressure from the American Council of the Blind and other disability advocates to make US currency more usable for people who lack the ability to distinguish between bills visually. The United States has been one of the few countries that does not differentiate its bills either by using different sizes for various denominations or by adding some tactile feature that would indicate the value of the note. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving has issued a white paper that includes a timeline for the gradual phase in of new tactile currency, with the ten-dollar bill leading the way in 2020.

The other mitigating factor is pretty clearly that the idea of putting a woman on US currency has become something of a national conversation of late. During my time at the ANS, no other subject has seemed to generate as much interest as this, and the Women on 20s campaign clearly had gained some momentum. Indeed, the fact Secretary of State Lew linked the introduction of the new bill to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment explicitly echoed that campaign.

The question of course turns to exactly who the woman should be. Lew said that officials are seeking advice nationwide and introduced a hashtag #TheNew10 to solicit public feedback. C8D00181-155D-451F-67528C91B231E573The winner in the recently concluded online voting for the Women on 20s campaign was Harriet Tubman, and she would certainly deserve the honor. My own preferred candidate remains Jane Addams, the Chicago reformer who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But I also believe that Amelia Earhart is perhaps the best candidate insomuch as she was an apolitical figure who is something of an American hero and could thus mobilize broad support. I also think her status as a cultural icon would be beneficial moving forward because part of the problem with US currency has been its narrow focus on representing political figures. Choosing someone like Earhart would ostensibly make it possible to include other notable Americans beyond the world of politics. Actually in the context of this specific bill, Helen Keller would be the most logical choice as she embodies both of the rationales behind the $10 redesign! In any case, the choice will be made by the end of the year it will be fascinating to see how this discussion progresses over the coming months.

It was interesting to hear Lew state that Alexander Hamilton will continue to have a place on the bill in addition to the new portrait of a woman. I am not sure how this will work design-wise. They could do something like the reverse of the 1896 $2 “Educational Series” note that featured Martha and George Washington:

reverse 1896Or the ten-dollar Legal Tender note of 1901 with Lewis and Clark flanking a dominant central design:


Whomever the choice, it does seem past time that a woman finds a place on American paper money. And let’s not forget the boon that this new and long-overdue tactile currency will be for the visually impaired.

Matthew Wittmann

Update: Listen to the segment below.

[iframe src=<iframe src=”http://www.npr.org/player/embed/415537140/415537141″ width=”100%” height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>]

Cutting Down Old Hickory

National Gallery
National Gallery

Following on my post last week about the campaign to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill, Gail Collins had a column the New York Times making the case that it was past time for a change. She quotes my observation about the rather more equitable situation with regards to gender and currency in Australia. The forthcoming Jane Austen note from the Bank of England is another example that bears looking at. Why not rotate through a cast of historical figures? Regardless of issues concerning representation, it is hard to understand why US paper currency has been so slow to change. As far as I can tell the only relevant part of the law (31 U.S. Code § 5114 )that governs the actual design of US paper money specifies:

United States currency has the inscription “In God We Trust” in a place the Secretary [of the Treasury] decides is appropriate. Only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on United States currency and securities. The name of the individual shall be inscribed below the portrait.

Beyond this it would seem that the Secretary of the Treasury and Bureau of Printing and Engraving have broad discretion to design the currency as they see fit, although consultation with Congress would undoubtedly be necessary for any major changes.

At any rate, given that the momentum to make a change seems to be building, and with Andrew Jackson lined up as the most likely target, the question of course turns to who should replace him. The New York Times has been hosting a lively discussion on the subject here. kspersGail Collins has me backing Amelia Earhart, which was a name I mentioned in the course of a larger discussion about possible candidates. Quite simply, I think Earhart would be a good choice because she seems able to garner broad popular support for what might devolve into a bruising political process. Whatever happens, we’ll keep updating and adding our two cents to this fascinating story.

Matthew Wittmann

Women On Twenties


Last week, I was quoted by the New Yorker in a piece on the campaign to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with an image of a significant woman from American history. In referring to Jackson as the “low-hanging fruit” of figures on US currency, I was alluding to the fact that his historical reputation has been much more volatile than his moneyed peers–George Washington ($1), Abraham Lincoln ($5), Alexander Hamilton ($10), Ulysses S. Grant ($50), and Benjamin Franklin ($100). Jackson came to power as an advocate of the “common man,” which has traditionally garnered him ire from those of a more conservative persuasion. From a different angle, his putative racism and support for Indian removal have proved problematic for those who would otherwise celebrate his democratic disposition. Fair or not, Jackson does seem like the easiest of the established paper money personalities to mobilize around replacing.

ANS, 0000.999.13288
ANS, 0000.999.13288

One of the ironies of all of this is that images of women were commonly featured on nineteenth-century bank notes, albeit not usually as individuals, but in the form of allegorical or idealized representations. In the obsolete bank note era, my guess is that Martha Washington (left) was the most prominently and frequently pictured individual woman (she also made a brief appearance on federal silver certificates in the 1890s). I know there were notes circulating that featured the Swedish singer-cum-celebrity Jenny Lind, but no other identifiable women spring immediately to mind as being regularly pictured (perhaps readers have suggestions). Whatever the case, the introduction of federal paper money initially continued the allegorical tradition, and the first twenty-dollar bill issued in 1863 featured a representation of Liberty holding a sword and shield at the center of its obverse. A bust of Alexander Hamilton saw Liberty pushed over to the right side of the bill a few years later:

ANS, 1980.67.23
ANS, 1980.67.23

Grover Cleveland subsequently graced the $20 Federal Reserve Note introduced in 1914, and the change to Andrew Jackson finally occurred  in 1929 when the small-size Federal Reserve Note we are familiar with today was put into circulation. Given that we are coming up on nine decades without a significant redesign, it might be time for a change and the WomenOn20s campaign certainly seems to be getting traction.

Whether or not this effort is successful, the big question is of course who should replace Jackson. WomenOn20s is presently having a vote on their website on a list of potential replacements. I was disappointed to see that Jane Addams, the noted social reformer and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize, somehow did not make the cut. Luckily, our capable assistant photographer Emma Pratte, was able to whip up a specimen note of my preferred candidate.

Emma Pratte
Emma Pratte

I am sure everyone has ideas about this, but it seems to me that one problem beyond the obvious lack of women on US currency is the narrow focus on political figures as the only kind worthy of inclusion.hundred-dollars-note
Australia, for one, not only equitably has a man and a woman on each of their circulating paper issues, they also draw from a broader range of historical personages, which includes poets and authors like Mary Gilmore and Banjo Paterson and soprano Dame Nellie Melba .

All of this got us wondering about potential candidates beyond the world of American politics, and going off a list of women that have already appeared on USPS stamps we came up with the following seven ‘cultural’ candidates:

[polldaddy poll=”8742714″]

Matthew Wittmann